Lenarduzzi back to where it all began for Test debut

Jillaroos prop Chelsea Lenarduzzi won't need directions around Wollongong as she prepares for her maiden Test appearance on Friday night.

While growing up in Moss Vale in NSW's Southern Highlands, Lernarduzzi's involvement in a host of sports resulted plenty of time spent in Wollongong.

The three-time national shot put champion won titles in 2015, 2016 and 2018 but only this season decided to put her talents on the track to the side and focus on a blossoming rugby league career.

After a couple of close calls throughout her four-year journey, the 23-year-old will get the chance to represent Australia in front of family and friends. 

"I used to play hockey, basketball and athletics in Wollongong so it feels like home," Lenarduzzi told NRL.com ahead of her Jillaroos debut. 

"It was hard to decide between the two sports but to get to the top now is indescribable. I'm glad I focused on league because it's where my heart really is."

Lenarduzzi has endured a rollercoaster of emotions since taking on the sport in 2016.

She was named in the Jillaroos' 40-player train-on squad for their 2017 World Cup campaign but was overlooked when the squad was culled to 24 for the tournament.

Her omission from the Queensland State of Origin line-up in 2018 also stung but she's bounced back since to win two premierships with the Broncos and reclaim her beloved Maroons jersey.

"In all fairness, and even though I've been left disappointed with past selections, I don't think I've been ready until this year," Lenarduzzi said.

"I go into things a lot more confident than what I would have if I was selected a few years ago. It's not that I don't get nervous but I've managed to control it a bit better.

"The time is right and getting to play in two grand finals with the Broncos it sets you up for these personal achievements. The experience from those big games is what I'll take into the Test match."

Lenarduzzi joins front-row partner Millie Boyle as the other forward set to make an international debut in a changing of the guard for the Jillaroos' engine room.

Experienced Jillaroos campaigners Heather Ballinger and Elianna Walton have retired since last year's Trans-Tasman Test, while Stephanie Hancock's international career is also uncertain. 

Broncos, Maroons and Jillaroos forward Chelsea Lenarduzzi.
Broncos, Maroons and Jillaroos forward Chelsea Lenarduzzi. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"In the past, it's been different, and those women have paved the way to get us where we are," Lenarduzzi said.

"With the speed of the game, you have to be more than just bash and barge hitting it up. You need to have something else like an offload and some footwork. That's something a lot of the forwards in the game are starting to do more.

"I think Millie is the best example of a modern-day forward coming through – she's one of the fittest players in the team and plays in the middle. It's been a big focus of mine to work hard all season and get fit for this time of the year."

Be there live at WIN Stadium for the Test Match Double Header. Visit nrl.com/ticketsto purchase tickets.